When it comes to trying to understand what modern America is thinking, I know of no pollster better than Peter Hart. His years of experience enable him to find and hear the reality behind the numbers, to recognize and explain it when it often slides by others unnoticed.
In the August 19th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Hart wrote about a woman in Colorado named Jennifer Howard, who he has watched on her journey through today’s political confusion. What she says about what she wants to see happen in America is vital not just for this election, but for all the years that follow it.
She told Hart:
“What I want to see is [people fixing] the things that are broken, I want people to focus more on our country, which is falling apart…We have the upper 1%, but the trickle-down effect isn’t working. So [attitudes are] let’s just continue squeezing that middle class…We can’t fix the world, we’ve proven that. We keep trying to go out there. We’re not fixing it. Well, let’s fix our country. That’s what I want.”
Boy, does that resonate with what I see every day in Maine, New York, and DC. She correctly senses that democracy is a participatory process, which goes way beyond occasionally voting, and requires all of us to actually do things for ourselves and others. While that might not have been at the front of her conscious mind, her continued use of ‘we’ indicates that she thinks we all have a role to play in fixing our country.
The same morning that I saw Hart’s piece I drove past two friends—sisters—whom I have known for a long time, walking together along a well-travelled country road in our summer home town, a road that has long been littered with trash. My friends saw that problem and set out to fix it. For quite a while, they have been taking their morning walk along that road and bring plastic bags and gloves, picking the roadside clean of trash as they go.
I asked them what got them started picking up trash. They both said—almost in one voice—that the community has been good to them and that cleaning the roadside seemed like an easy way to give back! It didn’t take a vote or a call to a government office, but now that roadside is cleaner than it has been in years. Perhaps if more folks looked around more often, they would see the many things they could do on their own to make their world better for everyone.
Imagine what our world might look like if as few as 10% of Americans–35 million people—did something simple once a week: helping a kid who missed the bus get to school, taking the newspaper to an older person who cannot get it herself, helping a neighbor’s kid with homework. In a few months, this old-fashioned but novel attitude could take root that could grow into something real and lasting.
No politics at all need be involved—just human interest and a little bit of generosity.
There are obviously problems that can only be solved with the power of government, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take some of the smaller tasks off its hands.
Maybe if we work together to solve the country’s smaller problems, it will become easier to solve our larger ones using the same state of mind.